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Plan to demolish and rebuild Cambridge synagogue rejected by councillors





Councillors have rejected plans to demolish and rebuild a synagogue in Cambridge following concerns from neighbours.

An application had been submitted to Cambridge City Council by the trustees of the Cambridge University Jewish Society to redevelop the existing synagogue and community facility in Thompsons Lane.

How the synagogue would have looked
How the synagogue would have looked

The current building was described as being “inadequate” and no longer “fit for purpose”, with supporters saying the new building would have a “positive contribution to Thompsons Lane”.

However, some of the neighbours objected to the plans, raising concerns about the impact of the new larger building on their gardens, particularly the sunlight reaching homes in Portugal Place.

Council planning officers had recommended for the plans to be approved, but recognised that the proposed changes would impact householders.

In a report, officers said the “harm” to neighbours would need to be balanced against the wider community benefits that would arise from the new building.

Under the plans, the new building would have wrapped around the rear of the Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts (CSVPA) on a similar footprint to the existing synagogue, but would have been enlarged and extended forward.

At a meeting of the council’s planning committee last Wednesday (January 11), councillors heard from both supporters and objectors.

Cambridge synagogue. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge synagogue. Picture: Keith Heppell

Some councillors agreed that it was a “difficult project to understand” without a model of the plans to see how it would relate to the neighbouring houses.

Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market) was “supportive of the general principle” of the development, but had concerns about the first floor extension.

Cllr Martin Smart did not think the proposed design was “attractive”, and added that he thought the “roofscape” looked “bulky”. Under the plans, the building “turns its back on Portugal Place” rather than “smile” on it, he argued.

When the application was put to a vote, councillors voted unanimously to refuse the plans.

The applicants estimated that there are about 1,200 Jewish students in Cambridge, 300 whom are registered with the Cambridge University Jewish Society. Of those, about two thirds take part in activities at the synagogue.

The project to renew the synagogue has been in progress for 10 years and has been the subject of three pre-applications with the city council in 2011, 2015 and 2018, and two public consultations in 2018 and 2019.



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